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Britain summons ambassador

Britain said on Thursday that a teacher charged with insulting Islam for calling a teddy bear Mohammed had made an innocent mistake.

world Updated: Nov 29, 2007 20:07 IST

Britain said on Thursday that a teacher charged with insulting Islam for calling a teddy bear Mohammed had made an innocent mistake and urged "common sense" to prevail as it called in the Sudanese ambassador.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband made the comments as Gillian Gibbons appeared in court in Khartoum for letting her pupils name a teddy bear "Mohammed", in a case which has escalated into a diplomatic incident.

"The Sudanese legal system has to take its course but common sense has to prevail," Miliband told reporters ahead of his meeting with the Sudanese diplomat, which lasted about 45 minutes.

"It's not about disrespect for Sudan, it's about being absolutely clear that this is an innocent misunderstanding."

The ambassador made no comment to waiting reporters before or after the talks, to which he was driven in a blacked-out embassy car. His spokesman earlier said it was "unlikely" that Gibbons would be convicted.

Miliband added added that, despite tensions between Khartoum and the West over the Darfur crisis, the teacher issue should not be seen as part of a "political dispute."

"This was a person making a contribution to Sudanese society," he added.

Fifty-four year-old mother of two Gibbons appeared in court in Khartoum Thursday, a day after being charged with insulting Islam and inciting religious hatred in a case that is pitting Sudan against its former colonial ruler.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman meanwhile said the premier's office was following developments closely.

"We are in contact with the Sudanese government through our embassy in Khartoum," he said. "We will consider what further steps are necessary in the light of the meeting with the ambassador today.

"We need to understand the rationale for why Mrs Gibbons has been charged and get a clearer understanding of what the circumstances are."

Saying that Brown personally was taking "a close interest in this," he added: "I think it's important that we do at this stage do more to seek out establishing what the facts are before we move to the next stage."

A spokesman for the Sudanese embassy in London said that Gibbons was "unlikely" to be convicted.

"Like all legal systems the judge can decide to dismiss the whole thing or that the case goes on anyway," Khalid al Mubarak told BBC television.

"In the unlikely event of conviction there is the process of appeal also, just as we have here," he added.

He added that, if the case continues it was possible President Omar al-Bashir could intervene -- but downplayed that prospect.

"At the later stage may be the president could intervene but I don't think matters will reach that later stage," he said.

The charges against the 54-year-old mother of two carry a maximum sentence of 40 lashes, six months in prison and a fine. Sudanese officials say a judge will determine the severity of the sentence.